Cape Town — President Jacob Zuma faces a vote of no confidence tabled in Parliament by his own party within days if he does not resign his office.
Leaders of the ANC are still hoping to avoid his and the party's “humiliation” by having further talks with him.
But the party wants its new leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, to deliver the annual “State of the Nation” address at the formal opening of this year's session of Parliament.
This became clear on Tuesday when the party's secretary-general, Ace Magashule, announced that Zuma had been “recalled” as a public representative, and the ANC caucus in Parliament was summoned to an urgent meeting on Wednesday.
In South Africa, members of Parliament are not directly elected by voters but are chosen by their parties on the basis of the proportion of votes a party wins. The ANC's practice is to “deploy” and “recall” MPs at the discretion of party leaders.
Once a parliament is constituted, it elects the president of the country – inevitably until now the leader of the ruling party.
Magashule and his deputy, Jessie Duarte – both among the last of the top leaders of the party to support Zuma – delivered a letter to the president on Tuesday informing him that the ANC's national executive committee had decided to recall him.
The decision, reached in debate beginning after lunch on Monday and lasting until the early hours of Tuesday, had not been easy, Magashule told an interviewer on the ANC's Twitter feed. “Indeed, President Zuma does have support,” he said.
Zuma asked the party that he remains as president of the country for another three to six months in order to fulfil his roles as a regional leader in the Southern African Development Community and in the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group of nations.
But, Magashule told a news conference, the executive had decided that the “uncertainty and anxiety” which the “unresolved matter” of the transition from Zuma's to Ramaphosa's leadership had generated was eroding “the renewed hope and confidence” in the country.
“The national executive committee firmly believes that this situation requires decisive leadership in order to steer our country towards greater levels of unity, renewal and inclusive economic growth,” he said.
“We are determined to restore the integrity of the public institutions, create political stability and urgent economic recovery.”
When Zuma refused to accept a shorter timeframe for his departure, the executive decided to recall him, Magashule said. Facing questions from journalists on whether the decision was unanimous, Magashule would say only that it was a “collective decision”.
He said the party expected to hear back from Zuma on Wednesday. In the interview published on the party's Twitter feed, he said he understood that Zuma would hold his own news conference.
Magashule studiously avoided questions on the steps that would be taken if Zuma fails to resign. But if the president fails to accede to his party's wishes, the only quick way of removing him from office is through a vote of no confidence in Parliament.
Opposition parties have tabled a motion of no confidence for next week, and are seeking to bring it forward. The ANC, anxious to avoid voting on an opposition motion, will discuss developments with its MPs at Wednesday's urgent caucus meeting.
But Magashule indicated that if the party had to table its own no-confidence motion, it would do so reluctantly.
“If the ANC goes with a motion to Parliament and passes a vote of no confidence in its own president, it will be an embarrassment,” he said. “It's [a] humiliation, and that's why we have to sort out our things during engagements and dialogue.”